Kicking the Habit: Managing Electronics (and Managing Me)

Last night we were reminiscing with some college friends about the good old days. “Remember when you had to print out MapQuest directions to get to someone’s house?”

“Oooh, or when you had to actually give directions on how to get there? ‘When you see the Waffle House, turn left and go about two miles until you get to the neighborhood… take the first left, then the first right, then we’re the fourth house on the left.”

“Haha! Yes! Oh, and what about the days before the internet? Remember those?”
“Yes! They were glorious.”
“I would go home from school and play outside and not have to deal with those people any more until the next day. At least at home I was loved.”


Two of the adults in this conversation are educators, and we talked about the staggering statistics of media use, particularly among middle schoolers. One of them did a personal classroom survey documenting media use over a week. The average was eleven hours per day, and while one student had as little as four hours, a few had twenty hours per day. TWENTY HOURS PER DAY.

“When do you sleep?” the teacher asked.
“I go to bed at 7:00 PM, set an alarm for 11:00 PM, then get on my phone until 3:00 AM.”
“What are you doing?!”
“Talking to my friends.”

Yeesh. Do you have any idea what fractured sleep does to a middle schooler’s brain?!

In a classroom study that went viral, the teacher told students to turn on notifications and turn the volume all the way up during a one-hour class. When a notification sounded, they were to get up and put a mark on the page under which app sent the notification. The end result looked like this:

How can a kid focus on anything with that level of bombardment interrupting his thoughts?

But the four of us know it’s not just a problem with middle schoolers. We all openly confessed our own struggles with media addiction and the way it interrupts our lives and thought processes.

Our Addictions

Remember when Facebook was NOT an infinite scroll? Yeah, we almost didn’t either. There was a time when it would load your feed where you left off, then you’d scroll up to the most recent posts and it would end there. You could refresh, but there was an end to it. Like any book or newspaper or t.v. show.

Not anymore. Apps are now designed to keep us there, or to keep us coming back, for another dopamine fix. We have become slaves to our devices.

Our family just watched a documentary called 3 Seconds Behind the Wheel that follows various individuals and their driving habits over the course of months. One girl was talking on one phone while texting on another phone while driving down the interstate. It’s terrifying. You should watch it (with your kids).

Last night, the four of us agreed that we’re in a unique position. We’re a generation sandwiched between the digital natives (our children) and the digital foreigners (our parents). We and this technology have grown up together, so we’ve been in a position to make mature decisions about our own technology use without a steep learning curve.

What sets us apart, I think, is that we can readily recognize our addiction for what it is, and we’re not afraid to try setting limits–for ourselves and for our children–in an effort to lead healthy lives. This technology is not going away. We have to adapt.

Our friends had some good points: Remember back in the day when smoking was culturally acceptable? People would smoke on airplanes, in enclosed non-ventilated cabins. We look back at that and say, “That’s awful! How could they not know how bad that is?!” People are going to look back a couple generations from now and say the same thing about personal devices, particularly in regards to children. “How could they not see it?”

And did you know that Steve Jobs wouldn’t let his own children have ipads?
That should tell you something.

But I digress.

Steps We’ve Taken

Turning off notifications and badges has been a huge first step for us. The only alerts we get now are phone calls and text messages. And there are hours of the night when even those are silenced. We check emails only at set times of day, then we turn it off (with no notifications). We only check social media at certain times of day, then we resist any urge to pick it up again. (It helps to keep the phone out of sight.)

In fact, over the course of dinner last night we four adults and two kids sat visiting for a couple hours with ZERO devices visible. It was delightful. Eye contact, meaningful conversation, connection… These are values we’re all trying to instill in our kids.

If you’ve struggled with media addiction, too, start by documenting your media use during the week–any device, even in the background, for any length of time.

Your smartphone already documents how much time you spend using it and which apps you spend it on. Take a hard look at the data:
iPhone: Settings > Screen Time
Android: Settings > Device Maintenance > Battery > Battery Usage

Beyond this, be brave enough to silence the world on a regular basis so you can connect with family or friends. Really look at the people around you wherever you are. Set hard and firm limits for technology use at home. You have both the right and the responsibility to set parental restrictions for your children’s devices and limit their use–even into their teenage years.

This technology is powerful, and it’s not going away. We’re just trying to put it in its proper place. We have to figure out what temperance looks like and model that for our children.

Are you doing something to help kick the habit? What’s working for you?

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